By Claire Zhang
PaperG, an advertising technology startup co-founded by Victor Wong (YC ’11), Ka Mo Lau (YC ’09), Victor Cheng (YC ’08), and Roger Lee, has partnered with some big names since its early days, including Hearst Corporation, Boston.com, the LATimes, AOL, and the New York Times, just to name a few. PaperG has designed a technology called “PlaceLocal” that uses the Internet to create custom, localized display advertisements in seconds. A company types their company name and location into a software, which then scours the web for relevant text and images, such as Google or Yelp reviews, and uses what it finds to make the ads.
In 2010, PaperG was described by the New York Times as “An Ad Engine to Put ‘Mad Men’ Out of Business” and Victor was deemed a young genius by the Nieman Journalism Lab. In 2011, Paper G made Forbes’ top 100 promising companies. Victor has also been featured in Forbes as one of “30 under 30” “Brightest Minds Rocking the Marketing World.”
The company first began with a technology called “the Flyerboard.” This product took print ads and digitized them for online sharing. In the process, PaperG also learned that “there was a need for building digital ads from scratch and that it was incredibly hard and costly for most advertisers,” said Victor. Thus the current product, PlaceLocal was born, making ad building “incredibly easy.”
Of course, start-ups are never smooth sailing, especially in these economic times. Victor said that the financial crises were one of the toughest challenges the company faced on the road to the company’s success.
"Money dried up overnight, and it was really hard for most companies to raise enough money to survive or thrive,” said Victor.
To overcome this hurdle, PaperG closed a round of financing immediately on terms offered at the time instead of waiting too long while the market got worse. Flyerboard was kept alive as a source of revenue as the team worked on developing the new platform, PlaceLocal.
Victor knew the company was taking off when they started getting big name customers calling them instead of the other way around. Since then, the company has moved into and outgrown seven offices – each with bigger leases and more space.
"Moving into new offices always gets me sentimental. Our newest office, perched slightly above San Francisco’s financial district, is my favorite one. There was a moment as we finished moving in and stood out on the balcony that I realized we’ve really made a place in the world for us and our ideas,” said Victor.
From Yale to Entrepreneur
At Yale, Victor was involved in the Elmseed Enterprise Fund, which exposed him to the excitement of running a business. It was this that led him to entrepreneurship instead of pursuing medicine, like his father, or finance, which he had considered at the end of his freshman year.
Victor credits the YEI for its community of mentors and peers for helping to develop the idea for PaperG, as well as providing many key hires and “even a key customer.” Victor was also able to speak with industry experts, such as Yale professors, through the Yale School of Management.
“Nothing could overstate the contribution though of the Yale alumni community which has made invaluable connections for us,” said Victor.
Looking to the Future
PaperG is currently working on expanding their company and bringing their product to not only local advertisers, but also online businesses and even national advertisers.
From cellphones, to iPads and tablets, laptops, and even television monitors, these days, we have seemingly unlimited ways to access the media we want. Because of this, Victor says that “running a simple display ad campaign is now incredibly hard.
“Our technology will make it easy to build and edit ads across all the necessary platforms,” said Victor.
A key component of this growth is hiring a strong team. However, Victor says, “We’ve found many new [college] graduates to be lacking in critical skills but full of eager attitudes. It’s been challenging as a result to hire someone with the perfect skill set for the job.”
So they’ve beefed up their own training and education programs, providing unlimited resources, offline courses, and books. The company has been working with other new startups to tackle the problem too.
As for new entrepreneurs, Victor believes that it is important to realize that the process of building a startup is not easy, and never gets easier.
“You shouldn’t be doing startups because they are easy,” he said. “You should be doing it because you find them exciting and challenging. You should assume it will be a marathon, not a short sprint. You will be going at this for longer than you think and you’ll need to pour your life into this endeavor or you’ll never even have a chance at succeeding. Everyday you are hustling and busting you chops to make your dream happen.”